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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Visits Ground Zero; Interview With Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Aired May 5, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: dramatic new details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, including the name, Operation Neptune Spear, a walk bin Laden took around the compound that helped tip off the United States and much more. Stand by, new information coming in.
Also, President Obama speaking out about bin Laden's burial at sea, how the decision to do it was reached and who made the call.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani, he was invited today to join the president as he paid tribute to 9/11 victims in New York. The former mayor joins us live this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news right now, chilling new information gleaned in the wake of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.
Sources now telling CNN that the al Qaeda operation was considering a new attack on the United States to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Let's go straight to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, who has got details on this.
This is chilling for anyone, all Americans who may want to go on a subway, may want to go on a train, Amtrak, a metro. What is going on?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The positive news, Wolf, is that this appears to be aspirational, rather than operational.
But here is what we are -- what we have heard, that the Department of Homeland Security this afternoon issued an unclassified notice about rail security. According to people who have read this, it says that, in February of 2010, members of al Qaeda discussed the possibility of trying to derail trains by putting obstructions on tracks. No specific rail system or city was mentioned, according to those who have read the notice. And also they were talking about doing this to coincide, as you mentioned, Wolf, with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. One of the individuals who has read this said: "I would not view it as an operational plan. I am not aware that anyone was tasked to carry this out."
A law enforce many source tells me that this information was gleaned from the material collected at the compound of Osama bin Laden. And it may be just the beginning.
MESERVE (voice-over): Agencies from across government are pouring manpower, specialized skills, and technical resources into the urgent hunt for information in the computers, flash drives, cell phones, papers, and other materials seized from Osama bin Laden's hideout.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: This is probably the most important haul that we will ever get.
MESERVE: McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA, says teams of government experts are likely triaging, prioritizing the search for the most dangerous information.
MCLAUGHLIN: What you want to find first and fastest is any indication of threats, plots actively under way. That's the first thing. Then, after that, you can start looking for patterns of relationships among people, ways of acquiring funding, ways of acquiring materiel, ways of communicating, possibly even some indication of who was in and out of that compound, and, therefore, some indication of what was the relationship between bin Laden's compound and Pakistan, if any.
MESERVE: In 2004, analysis of computers seized from Ahmed Ghailani, a suspect in the African embassy bombings, revealed sophisticated surveillance had been done of U.S. financial institutions. The information was so detailed and alarming, it triggered a hike in the terror threat level.
McLaughlin says the materials seized this week may not lay out an entire plot, but the application of sophisticated math algorithms may extract small but key clues which fit together with other intelligence to illuminate a larger picture.
MCLAUGHLIN: We don't know yet how much of a blow this data is going to be to al Qaeda. But it could be a fatal blow. It could be the rough equivalent of what we had in World War II when we were breaking Hitler's communications or reading the Japanese Purple code.
MESERVE: McLaughlin and others say it could take a long, long time to fully exploit this information. They are going to be drawing connections and then connections to those connections. It will take a while, Wolf, for this to be fully extracted and appreciated and acted on.
BLITZER: Given the enormous amount of material, the process is only just beginning.
MESERVE: That's right.
BLITZER: Jeanne, thanks very much.
Let's get a little bit more now with our CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She's a member of the external advisory boards for both the Homeland Security Department, as well as the CIA.
Fran, this information that the Department of Homeland Security is now releasing that there was a plot for presumably a spectacular plot to coincide in September with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 involving rails or trains, subways, metros, what do you make of this?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, this is particularly chilling up here in New York, because, of course, today is the day President Obama was down at Ground Zero laying a wreath.
And, as you recall, Wolf, Ground Zero is a transportation -- a train hub. I talked to a senior administration official who confirmed, as Jeanne reported, that this information did in fact come out of the compound. He said to me that they looked at this. They can't tell from looking at the document that this threat -- where this threat was contained was actually a plot that was approved by bin Laden. But they don't believe it is an immediate threat.
And, in fact, they went through the process that you would go through to consider whether or not this was a sufficient threat to raise the threat terror alert level and they specifically decided it did not warrant that. And that's important for our viewers to understand, Wolf. If they thought this was imminent or credible, they would have raised the level. They considered and it said, no, it does not rise to that level.
The other point he made to me is, look, there's likely to be more of these, that, you know, and we expect that there will be more coming up to the anniversary. But they are going to have to go through these documents very deliberately, one at a time, and assess the credibility of those threats.
BLITZER: And the decision to go ahead and inform local law enforcement authorities, local and state authorities, federal authorities all over the country about this specific threat, that's -- and they did it very, very quickly. They didn't waste any time. What happens now? What do these authorities do with that warning?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Wolf, this has always been a source of frustration, because, of course, to increase your activities is costly. And state and local jurisdictions can't sustain those for any measure of time without blowing their budgets.
I think mostly, Wolf, this is -- there has been a move to try and share more nothings. And it allows local chiefs of police -- we know here in New York, Ray Kelly has increased protective measures. But it allows them to move their resources around, to increase intelligence collection, to increase surveillance and look for people who may be targeting.
You know, up here in New York, there was the Zazi Najibullah case. This -- my source specifically said to me the document that they found and that plot were not related. The document was clearly written after that plot. And so this was -- they were in no way connected. I immediately wondered whether or not this -- that had been directed from bin Laden. And he said, no, there is no indication of that.
BLITZER: Yes. Given al Qaeda's history, they always are looking at anniversaries to try to do something spectacular. And I know law enforcement, U.S. Homeland Security and others were always concerned that around 9/11, there could be a plot in the works. I'm sure security is going to be tightened in the days and weeks, months leading up to 9/11.
TOWNSEND: That's right.
BLITZER: Fran, thank you very much.
2012 is on Jack Cafferty's mind. He's joining us now with "The Cafferty File."
It's pretty chilling stuff, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed.
After hovering around all-time lows in the polls, the approval ratings, President Obama is getting a bump in those ratings following the killing of Osama bin Laden. There's a new Gallup poll out that finds the president's approval rating has jumped from 46 percent to 52 percent following Sunday's successful raid on the bin Laden compound.
Issues like the deficit and the economy have been weighing on Obama's approval and putting his 2012 bid for reelection in some jeopardy. His indecision over acting in the recent Middle East uprisings didn't help his cause either. But getting bin Laden, that was big.
And, somehow, people suddenly forget how inexperienced and ineffective he seemed on foreign policy as recently as just a few weeks ago. You can be sure that the economy, things like jobs and the skyrocketing national debt and deficits, will still likely dominate the 2012 race. But for now, for this week, foreign policy and the war on terror have taken center stage, and President Obama's looking pretty good all of a sudden.
But that's also due in part to his lack of competition. The potential field of Republican presidential candidates is pretty awful, consisting of mostly current or former governors, a few current or former House members, and a lot of people who have already run for president and lost. But, like I said, we have a tendency to forget quickly. And once conversation switches back to that $14 trillion debt ceiling that we are fast approaching, and how we are going to cut next year's budget, well, the bin Laden get will likely hit the rear-view mirror in a hurry.
Here is the question: Should the killing of Osama bin Laden be an issue in the 2012 presidential race?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and tell us what you think.
BLITZER: And they will, Jack. They will be telling in probably record numbers, because people are watching in huge, huge numbers, us, right now.
Jack, thank you.
President Obama marks the death of bin Laden at Ground Zero in New York. Rudy Giuliani is here to talk about that somber day. He was the president's guest today. They walked around all day together.
Plus, new details of the raid that killed bin Laden, including how his son charged at Navy SEALs on a staircase, and why one SEAL actually laid down next to the body of the world's most wanted terrorist. What was going on?
We will tell you.
BLITZER: President Obama today went to the scene of the destruction bin Laden created. We're talking about Ground Zero in New York City. the president laid a wreath honoring the more than 2,000 people who died at the World Trade Center.
And, earlier, he visited a fire station that lost 15 men on 9/11.
CNN's Mary Snow is in New York with more.
Mary, how was he received specifically by the firefighters? I know you were at that firehouse for most of the day.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they were very thankful for the president's visit. And they were grateful for the recognition.
But, you know, we have heard the word closure being used a lot this week. They say they don't really have a sense of closure, but rather the ending of a chapter.
SNOW (voice-over): The president's visit to this Times Square firehouse steered away from politics. Underscoring that, he was accompanied by the city's former Republican mayor and one-time presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani. RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: How are you?
SNOW: Inside, the president was shown a memorial to the 15 members of Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9, killed on September 11. He called this firehouse a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice made that day.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I just want to let you know that you're always going to have a President and an administration who's got your back the way you've got the backs of the people of New York over these last many years.
SNOW: Privately, firefighters served the president a lunch of eggplant Parmesan and pasta. They say they spoke about many things, including the president talking to them about coming to the decision not to make public the photograph of Osama bin Laden's dead body, something these firefighters say they didn't raise.
THOMAS VENDITTO, FDNY: It was a day of non-politics. And we were happy that we got justice. He shook our hands and congratulated us on our service, told us how he felt about the members that we lost 10 years ago on 9/11. And we sat together as men, gentlemen around a table, enjoyed a meal. And we celebrated having had justice this week.
SNOW: Their roughly 45-minute meeting was described as informal, with some bonding moments.
CHIEF JACK JOYCE, FDNY: For those 30 minutes, he was describing to us how he was just so anxious because he couldn't control what was going on over there in Pakistan. And he understood now how we feel sometimes going to a fire trying to rescue somebody, the frustration sometimes of us not getting that done, or the joy and elation of us getting that job done and coming back home safe.
SNOW: And, Wolf, there seemed to be another bonding moment over basketball. The firehouse chief told us that the president offered an invitation to the firefighters to go to the White House and play some basketball, an invitation, they say, they hope to take him up on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.
Mary Snow is in New York.
An emotional day for so many New Yorkers as the president made his first trip as president to the site of the 9/11 terror attacks, somberly marking the death of Bin Laden.
Rudy Giuliani was mayor on 9/11. He was with the president today most of the day. He's joining us now from New York.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in and on this important day. GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Who called you from the White House and invited you to spend the day with the president at Ground Zero, at the fire station, at Precinct Number One?
GIULIANI: Bill Daley called me.
BLITZER: The White House chief of staff.
GIULIANI: Yes, the White House chief of staff called me two days ago, asked me if I would do it. I told him I would be honored to do it, and I just had to change my schedule, so I did and came in very early this morning from Michigan where I was giving a talk to a homeland security conference.
And I was very honored to be with the president because it seemed to me it was perfect statement to make. That this isn't partisan. It isn't Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative. This is about America and it's about, you know, spanning two different administrations, America keeping its word to never forget.
BLITZER: Because we know that the -- the president also invited the former President George W. Bush, who declined the invitation because he is taking a rather low-key profile. But I -- what do you think out President Bush's decision and for that matter, former President Bill Clinton's decision not to attend?
GIULIANI: I think they didn't want to in anyway suggest that maybe they were taking spotlight off the president.
I spoke to President Bush. This was not an issue of his not wanting to do it. I just think he felt -- he felt it would be better for him not to try to look like he was taking some of the spotlight from President Obama.
And I can't speak for President Clinton but I'm going to guess that was probably the same thing.
You know, President Obama deserved this moment. So I don't quite take the spotlight from him, so it's a lot easier for me to do it.
BLITZER: So tell us what you -- yes, I mean, without getting into sensitive areas, but share us with what you and the president discussed as you went to the firehouse, when you went to the precinct, when you went to Ground Zero. What were you talking about?
GIULIANI: Well, we were talking about the incident, obviously, you know about -- about -- I told him how much I admired his courage and willingness to take a risk, because it was a very risky thing that he did, but a necessary one.
And he told me a bit about how he made the decision and some of the things that they were worried about during the time that the whole thing was happening.
Then after that, we started to get into sports, Yankees and the White Sox, and golf, which we both love very much.
BLITZER: Do you have a different attitude of this president now? We remember some of the tough talk during the campaign in 200 on inability, Democrats weak in the war on terror. But I assume you have a much respect for President Obama, right now and that gutsy decision he made to go ahead and send those Navy SEALs to Pakistan.
GIULIANI: I do, I do. Having been a chief executive in a city where you make, you know, tough decisions all the time, I can tell the difference between people who do and people who don't. And the minute I heard about this on Sunday night, my reaction was the president made a very gutsy call.
It took a lot of courage to take that risk because, as I said to him and have said publicly, if it had gone wrong, and there were a thousand reasons why it might have gone wrong, he would have been the one that would be blamed for it.
Shouldn't be that way. We should respect the president one way or the other however it turns out. But, you know, just a natural course of things are if it goes wrong, the president will get blamed for it, like Jimmy Carter was many years ago.
BLITZER: In 1979 when --
GIULIANI: Yes, you know, probably that was the right call --
BLITZER: Desert One.
GIULIANI: -- when Jimmy Carter, he couldn't control everything that would go on after that.
BLITZER: Yes. But fortunately, the -- this worked out a lot better as we all know.
So just to nail down this one point, do you have a heightened respect for President Obama now?
GIULIANI: Yes, sure. Not just from being with him but from the decision itself.
Also being with him -- look, when you deal personally with somebody, it always gives you a different perspective, which is one of the reasons why personal interchange between political figures is so important.
I had a very close relationship with Speaker Vallone, who was the Democratic speaker of the city council, and it got us over a lot of ideological battles because we both liked each other, we both knew each other. We could kid each other, we could have drinks together, cigars together. And we still had plenty of battles, but it usually meant that we could figure out a common ground.
That's very important in politics and we are missing that now. We're missing some of that.
BLITZER: I totally agree.
Let me get you to weigh in on the breaking news that Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent, was reporting at the top of the hour that among the information they found in bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, was information dating back almost a year or so that pointed to some sort of spectacular attack on al Qaeda would have liked to have done on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. which is coming up in September, on rails, trains, subways. And -- they -- the Department of Homeland Security has notified local and state authorities just to be on the alert right now.
This is pretty chilling when you think about it.
GIULIANI: It is, it is. But it really is just like a wakeup call. I mean, it's not -- to me, it is not unexpected. If you had told me, you know, four, five days ago that there is a possibility of this without in information, I would have said, of course. I mean, they are going to try to harm us coming up toward the anniversary of September 11.
They are going to try to harm us because of what we did to bin Laden, make no mistake about it. I think capturing him was absolutely necessary, bringing him to justice was totally necessary. Long term, it's going to make us much safer; short term it puts us in more danger, there's no question about it.
BLITZER: Because they might try to retaliate, is that what you're saying?
GIULIANI: Absolutely right. For the same reason that it was so important to take him out, because of -- his symbolic power that he has, just think of the reaction for those people who admire him for some strange reason, and how they will be trying to do something either to us or our allies or American interests abroad or wherever they can -- they can get back at us.
And I think we have to be on much higher alert now at least through the anniversary of September 11, because they are going to be trying to harm us.
But long term, this will help us a lot. Taking him out was a very, very significant step in winning this war, not the last one by any means, but a big one along the way.
BLITZER: And I'm told that the information that they found in the compound is very, very important. It is a treasure trove of information. It might even lead to the capture of Ayman Al-Zawahiri and others, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, but we will have to wait and see.
Mayor, thanks for spending a few moments with us.
GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf. And terrific coverage on Sunday night.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
GIULIANI: You guys did a great job.
BLITZER: America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, joining us on this very special day, appreciate it very much.
There was also an important ceremony at the Pentagon, where 189 people were killed on 9/11. The vice president, Joe Biden, laid a wreath in front of a stone that was charred in the fire and is now engraved with a date. He was joined by the defense secretary, Robert Gates, other Pentagon officials, as well as families of some of the victims.
New details coming in on CIA surveillance of bin Laden's compound. We are going to tell what you tipped them off that a man who took walks around the property might -- repeat -- might be bin Laden.
Also-, face-to-face with bin Laden -- those U.S. commando had to improvise because they didn't have a piece of equipment. We are getting more information.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We are learning some fascinating new details about the U.S. assault that killed bin Laden and exactly how it all unfolded over 38 extremely intense minutes from the time the Navy SEALs landed until they choppered out with the dead body of the world's most wanted terrorist.
Let's get straight to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who is working the story for us, getting new information.
Barbara, tell our viewers what you are finding out.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new details every day as they come through the after-action reports. Even government officials are learning more every day about what happened there.
One of the most fascinating details, the U.S. government had reports of a tall man walking around inside the compound out in the yard essentially doing prison yard walks. He never went outside the walls. He was observed -- we don't know how -- several times. They never were able to identify it was bin Laden, but it was a key clue that it might be, in the compound. Look at this picture here, Wolf. What we now know is how it basically all went down, two helicopters assaulting the compound. The first objective they went to was that small guesthouse at the lower southern end of the compound, where you see that V. They go inside there. They quickly kill a Kuwaiti courier who was very close to bin Laden.
He got a couple of shots off against the SEALs, but nobody else did. After they killed that man, they rapidly went to the three-story building you see at the northern end of your compound at the top of your screen. In that building, on the ground floor, the courier's brother killed. He does not get any shots off against the SEALs, we are told.
The SEALs begin to go up the stairs -- coming at them, Osama bin Laden's son, through a bunch of barricades on the stairs. We are told that man, the son of Osama bin Laden, also didn't get any shots off.
The SEALs then burst through the third floor room where bin Laden is. And he is killed with a quick two-shot, first to the chest, then to the head. He was not carrying a weapon, as we now know, but he -- there were weapons in the room. He was moving towards them.
I have to tell you that, tonight, Senator Saxby Chambliss has been saying that there was a missed shot, that bin Laden may have stuck his head out in the hallway; the SEALs took a shot at that very difficult angle, and missed.
U.S. officials say they are aware of Saxby Chambliss' remarks and they are not moving to dispute those at the moment. But the bottom line is, the SEALs punched through the door and killed bin Laden in a rapid double-tap shot -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And tell us, Barbara, about this anecdote that you have learned about some piece of equipment that was missing that required the Navy SEALs to do something rather different.
STARR: A little bit of improvisation in the field, Wolf.
We are told that one of the things they wanted to do to identify bin Laden was get his height. He was a very tall man, of course, above 6 feet tall. So, basically, awkward though it sounds, one of the Navy SEALs laid down on the floor next to the dead Osama bin Laden to judge his height versus Osama's height and determined that this person, this dead man on the floor, was over six feet tall. But I have to tell you, they pretty much made a facial recognition, and they were very certain, even before they completed the DNA analysis, that they got the man they were looking for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They got the guy. All right. Barbara, thank you. Sources tell CNN the only glitch in the raid was the hard landing by one helicopter that forced the SEALs to leave it behind. This was no ordinary helicopter. Our pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has more -- Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we spoke with an experienced Blackhawk pilot who knows these helicopters inside and out as well as some aviation experts. They've never seen a helicopter like this one, and we weren't supposed to.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The SEAL team coming to kill Osama Bin laden was just seconds from fast roping to the ground with one helicopter came down on Bin Laden's outer wall.
GARETH JENNINGS, JANE'S AVIATION DESK EDITOR: Breaking into it as it did so with the main body of the helicopter falling into the compound where the SEAL team was, the tail section falling outside of the compound.
LAWRENCE: That crash revealed the secret to the world. America has a stealth helicopter.
JENNINGS: Never ever seen a cop (ph) like this on any variant of any Blackhawk.
LAWRENCE: Gareth Jennings monitors aviation technology for Jane's. He says army Blackhawks are normally painted olive green.
JENNINGS: This particular one is a gray color. Not just any gray. It's infrared suppressant gray.
LAWRENCE: Part of the fuselage is shaped like an F-22 stealth fighter which is designed to defeat radar.
JENNINGS: If you eliminate right angles in an aircraft design radar combat -- radar waves combat spot (ph).
LAWRENCE: Jennings says it's got extra rotor blades which makes it harder to hear. Compare the sound of a normal Blackhawk with an experimental stealth helicopter.
Almost sounds like it's going away from you. With Bin Laden the target, the mission so dangerous, it's unlikely this was the modified Blackhawk's first flight. Remember, the American public learned of the F-117 stealth fighter during the invasion of Panama in 1989, nine years after it started flying opinion.
JENNINGS: And had this particular helicopter not crashed, we would still have no idea of its existence.
LAWRENCE: But now, everyone knows. The SEALs blew up the main body of the helicopter in the compound. This was the part they couldn't get to. A U.S. official confirms Pakistan has it now which raises the possibility it could give the technology to others.
JENNINGS: That has to be of great concerns to the U.S. department defense because with our technology, the Chinese or any other third party can either incorporate that technology into their own aircraft or they can figure out ways to defeat that technology.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE (on-camera): Remember, the SEALs tried to blow it up, but at that point, they got the body of Osama Bin Laden. They've been on the ground almost 40 minutes. They had to wait going back to set a second set of explosives versus getting away and completing the mission they were sent there to do -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much -- excuse me -- Chris Lawrence, excuse me, a very, very emotional day at ground zero as President Obama pays tribute to Bin Laden's victims.
Plus, the impact of Bin Laden's death on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. CNN goes in depth.
BLITZER: Exhilaration in Osama Bin Laden's death gave way to somber reflection in New York City today as President Obama paid tribute to the victims of the September 11th terror attacks who died almost a decade ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this firehouse symbolizes the sacrifices that were made by the firefighters and first responders in New York City. I think the world knows that to some degree. So, for him to come here and to see the faces of the firefighters that were killed on September 11th and to see the shrine that was erected in Iran, really meant something to him. I can see that the president was clearly touched.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened on Sunday, because the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence, send a message around the world but also send a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean that. Our commitment to making sure the justice was done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to thank President Bush and President Obama for sticking it out, for always staying focused. I know that President Obama said that we're going to get him. It took a long time, took a lot of preparation, but they got him. So, I think that ten years, one year, two years, ten years, it's done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As fire fighters were mostly concerned, that people remember the sacrifice that we have made, our brothers have made, and remember their families with the loss of those members. There are children that have no fathers. Parents that lost sons and wives that lost their husbands. We live with these losses each and every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There isn't any closure for the families. This is just the beginning for us to continue honoring our loved ones, to making sure their memories are never forgotten.
BLITZER: President Obama will travel to Ft. Campbell in Kentucky tomorrow to meet with some of the Navy SEALs who took part on the raid on Bin Laden's compound. The senior aid tells CNN the president plans to privately thank them during the visit. Yesterday, the president met at the White House with Adm. William McRaven, the head of the joint special operations command to quote, "thank him personally."
Let's bring in our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger. This is a very, very sensitive moment right now. He goes, David, to ground zero today, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, to meet with the Navy SEALs tomorrow. How is he doing in balancing this without being seeming to be overly political because that would look awful if he tried to take political advantage of this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Agree, Wolf. President Obama has been very successful this week in extending his finest hour as president right from Sunday night when his speech was straightforward and did not gloat, very careful not to gloat. He didn't try to exploit it for political advantage. And now, coming here to ground zero and conducting a ceremony with quiet dignity, that did very special honor, no only to the families but to the firefighters and the police and others.
And now going on to Kentucky, and again, apparently, no big speech that would sort of dance on this. I think that -- I think that it struck people as being what they'd like to see in a president.
BLITZER: And you heard Rudy Giuliani, Gloria, just a little while ago saying it was a perfect pitch.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BLITZER: This from someone who is pretty critical of him over the past few years.
BORGER: Yes. You know, the president was very restrained, is the word that I think of. People don't want to see this kind of situation exploited. I think it's completely appropriate for him to meet with these families, to go to ground zero, and then, to go, of course, meet with the Navy SEALs, and so, you know, it's a fine line to walk because you don't want to give huge public speeches and declare mission accomplished, if you will, and I don't think the president did that. I think it was just the right pitch.
BLITZER: David, did the administration, though, hurt itself by giving out some wrong information so quickly after the event and now having to correct it?
GERGEN: I'm sympathetic, Wolf. Having been in that position and made the same mistake before. When -- and what I found from White House experience is and one of these kinds of dramatic moments occurs especially when there's military action, you do get bomb (ph) information in the White House. Some of it comes in as correct and some of it is incorrect.
GERGEN: And then you want rush out and put it out. So, I'm sympathetic with the first 24 hours. What surprised me was that after 24 hours, they didn't slow it down and try to get it all right. The story not only made one series of changes but made a second series of changes. That surprised me.
BORGER: You know, Wolf, there's kind of this emphasis in the news cycle in which we live on a media transparency. That's what we want. And this White House has talked an awful lot about transparency. So, in that rush, to do that, it -- accuracy is what suffers. And when you do the after-action reports and when you re- interview people, you continue. It's like reporting a story. You continue to find out more facts. You have to refine exactly what occurred, you know?
And so -- I think this White House may have rushed a little quickly, but that's because we're pressuring them at the other end because we wanted all the details.
BLITZER: I suspect they're going to learn a lesson --
GERGEN: It reminds you a little bit of --
BLITZER: Go ahead, David.
GERGEN: Yes, I'm sorry. It reminds you a little bit of that whole Helen Thomas from the UPI. Get it first, but first, get it right.
BORGER: Right. And that's hard, as we know.
BLITZER: We're pressuring them for the information all the time, I must say. Guys, thanks very much.
Could the death of Bin Laden mean American troops will be coming home earlier than we thought from Afghanistan? Stand by.
And the details behind why and how President Obama made the decision to bury Bin Laden at sea. New information coming in to the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The raid to kill Osama Bin Laden hasn't just complicated the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, American attitudes towards Afghanistan may also be shifting as a result. For an in depth look, I'm joined now by our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. Bin Laden's death, what will be the impact on the U.S. strategy towards Afghanistan, Dan, where the U.S. still has 100,000 troops?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, some experts say that there really has to be long-term impact. It represents some major shift for the U.S. policy in the region and might even hasten a long-term settlement for power structure in Afghanistan. But here at the White House, they're not talking about any shift at all. Instead, insisting that the policy of the U.S. in the region remains unchanged.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): The covert mission that ended the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden and changed his status on the FBI's most wanted list to deceased reignited debate about the mission in Afghanistan and shifted the ground under the already fragile relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.
RICK INDERFURTH, SR. ADVISER CSIS: It strange credulity that someone in Pakistan did not know that Bin Laden was in their midst. That is exactly what the U.S. has to determine now.
LOTHIAN: Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight near Pakistan's military facility, seemingly punching a hole in that government's public support for the U.S. war against extremism.
PETER KING, (R) HOMELAND SECURITY CHMN: It's, obviously, it's been double-dealing here. So, I don't want to be prejudging this, but obviously, the time has come for a real heart-to-heart, face-to-face sit-down with the Pakistan.
LOTHIAN: The U.S. has invested $20 billion in Pakistan since 9/11 to fight terrorism. Now, some lawmakers who have raised doubts about their commitment support freezing aid to Pakistan. But Ambassador Rick Inderfurth who served in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs said this latest blow to what everyone agrees is a complex relationship should not unravel it.
INDERFURTH: We can't be successful in Afghanistan, unless, Pakistan is part of the solution. Now, the question is whether or not they will be a full partner or a reluctant partner, and whether they will be a trustworthy partner.
LOTHIAN: One hundred thousand U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, fighting a war that was triggered by the 9/11 attacks. President Obama who honored the victims during a wreath laying ceremony at ground zero plans to start withdrawing troops in July, but secretary of defense Robert Gates has said some will remain until 2014. With al Qaeda in Afghanistan diminished and Bin Laden dead, there's mounting pressure to speed up that timeline, even though, the White House is insisting no change.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's plan is on track. The pace of that drawdown will be determined by conditions on the ground.
LOTHIAN: The successful surgical strike to take out Bin Laden has also renewed calls for smaller targeted missions rather than a full-scale war. President Obama's reshuffled national security team will have to deal with new realities in the region while pushing for a stable partner in Pakistan that it can depend on.
OBAMA: Given the pivotal period that we're entering, I felt there was absolutely critical that we had this team in place so that we can stay focused on our missions, maintain our momentum, and keep our nation secure.
LOTHIAN (on-camera): The Pakistani foreign secretary said today that any suggestion that the government there or the intelligence community was aiding Osama Bin Laden is just false, and quote, "absolutely wrong." He went on to add that he believes the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are, quote, "moving in the right direction" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see. All right. Thanks very much for that, Dan Lothian, over at the White House.
Should the killing of Bin Laden be an issue in the 2012 presidential race? Jack Cafferty's coming up next.
Plus, who decided to bury bin Laden at sea? The president of the United States now speaking out on that specific issue.
BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour, should the killing of Osama Bin Laden be an issue in the 2012 presidential race?
Alex in Washington writes, "I believe the slow economic recovery will still be the ongoing focus of the presidential race. Getting Bin Laden, though, should help put down the conservative assertion that Democrats are weak when it comes to protecting the nation."
Steve in Virginia writes, "Lest we forget the hunt for Bin Laden was very much an issue in the 2004 presidential race. Further, since President Obama's many detractors publicly question his leadership ability or his ability to handle the proverbial phone ringing in the White House at 3:00 a.m., the 2012 campaign seems an appropriate time to respond to some of those allegations."
Bill in Pennsylvania writes, "The race is on now. Everything's being recorded. It will be edited, spun, and presented in a way to make the most points. Reality, truth, common sense, and the best interests of the citizens count for little or nothing. The public must be made to think, though, that they do have a choice. The billionaire owners will make the decisions, and we will follow and vote as we are told by the paid ads from the owners."
Becky in Las Vegas writes, "Killing Osama Bin Laden, no, but Obama's willingness to go after a terrorist wherever he's hiding should be. It was a brave call on Obama's part, and it merits praise. As CNN contributor, Prague Cana (ph) wrote, this operation has sent a clear reminder to many poorly govern states that serve as safe havens for terrorists and criminal fugitives that others will extend the law into their territories if they fail to do so themselves."
Ken in California says, "Pardon the pun, but it will be a dead issue. In a sinking economy, it will still be about jobs, those ever- decreasing available jobs that the private sector cannot provide and the government can't afford to provide anymore."
And James in North Carolina, "Will it be an issue? Only if it can get some votes."
If you want to read more on that subject, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks, very, very much.
An exclusive tour of ground zero. That's ahead on "John King, USA."
Plus, President Obama talks about the decision to bury Bin Laden.
BLITZER: The president is defending his decision to bury the body of Osama Bin Laden at sea. Here's how he explains it to CBS' "60 Minutes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It was a joint decision. We thought it was important to think through ahead of time how we would dispose of the body if he were killed in the compound. And I think that what we tried to do was consulting with experts in Islamic law and ritual to find something that was appropriate, that was respectful of the body. Frankly, we took more care on this than, obviously, Bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people.
He didn't have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated, but that, again, is something that makes us different. And I think we handled it appropriately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama also reiterated that DNA tests confirm, confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bin Laden's identity was, in fact, this was Bin Laden, and that releasing photographs of the body, he says, could create a national security risk. That's why they have not released the photos.
That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM. "John King, USA" starts right now.